Hogan's Alley

Monday, March 06, 2006

Blogging The Oscars - The Politics

Considerable press has been given to the political nature of this year's crop of films, especially among the nominees for Best Picture. True to its fascination with itself, Hollywood spent some time last night congratulating itself for its progressive instincts. Documentaries were even touted twice as films that told "The Truth". George Clooney, in his acceptance speech for the Best Supporting Actor award went so far as to list the social causes Hollywood has championed in its films over the years.

In truth, Hollywood has been an important source of validating the final stages of changes in the American culture, many of which, like the elimination of discrimination, were good things. However, it is important to note that bravery has not been Hollywood's strong suit. Most of the films that tackled the so called controversial issues have come well after the culture as a whole had already reached a tipping point on the issue. A review of the film represented in the Chuck Workman montage of political films shown during the awards show would reveal that most were produced well after the crucial turning point had been reached.

Let's take this years Best Picture nominees for example. Brokeback Mountain presents a detailed picture of a gay relationship that is set in the 50's and 60's, a time, now well past, in which openly gay relationships were impossible. Every American, either in their family or their workplace knows openly gay people, many of whom are in acknowledged relationships. The closet was thrown open and blown apart following the Stonewall riots in 1969, 37 years ago. The only outstanding issue in America today is whether gay relationships should be accredited full marriage rights or only the status of civil unions. Aside from the religious right, acceptance of gays is a settled issue. No political bravery required.

In Capote, a film also set in the 60's, Truman Capote's obviously fey behavior is only part of the cultural clash between his urbane ways and his misperception of the Kansans he meets as hicks. This is not a political film. It is a brilliant portrait of one of the major fiction writers of the 20th century and his manipulation of all around him in pursuit of his "art".

Good Night and Good Luck tackles, on its face, the horrors of McCartyism. Joe McCarthy has been dead for 49 years, almost half a century. The fear he engendered and the harm he did, directly and indirectly, to people's lives has long since been consigned to the ash heap of history.

Yes, I know, we are supposed to take Ed Murrow and company's heroic confrontation with the Senator as an object lesson for today's press in its supposed failures to confront the Bush Administration in the lead up to the Iraq invasion or the rest of the multitudes of its sins. Does anyone who has seen a recent White House press briefing, especially during the feeding frenzy following the Cheney shooting, really believe the press is fearful of lost careers or other sanctions? It strains credibility and bespeaks a Hollywood culture which is so uniform politically that really vibrant discussion is nonexistent. Who in Hollywood, after all, is going to seriously challenge George Clooney when he pontificates. Thus he is left holding irrational beliefs about the horrors of America from the comfort of his villa in Italy.

In Munich, we have Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner positing that if the Israelis had not retaliated for the massacre of innocent Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the Palestinians would, presumably, have been shamed into abandoning their terror tactics and peace would now reign in the middle east. The film is brilliant and is arguably the most disturbing film of the year. Yet, once again we have Hollywood artists devoting their not inconsiderable talents to a discussion of events of 33 years old when this film was produced. If they blame the Israelis for pushing the conflict forward, why not take on Israeli retaliation for more recent terrorist attacks such as bus bombs in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv? Why not attack Israel for building the wall? How about Hollywood proposing the correct Israeli response to the recent election of a Hamas government in Palestine? That would require true courage because it would provoke heated counterarguments and avoid the safety of hindsight.

Lastly, we come to the winner of the award for Best Picture, Crash. This one may be the exception that proves the rule. Paul Haggis' script is set in present day Los Angeles and closely examines the racial attitudes of all of its constituent ethnic groups. It is frank, nuanced and truthful in a way that resonates with the viewer's perceptions of the America they inhabit. There are no bad guys or bogeymen as easy targets and there is no self-congratulatory posturing of a Hollywood elite firmly declaring itself has having achieved the moral high ground in the face of a philistine nation of bobos. It may have won the Best Picture award because it is, after all, about Los Angeles, the center of the universe and hometown to the Academy voters, but it deserved it. It is, I predict, the film from 2005 that will be remembered for generations.